The first kākāpō chicks of the season have hatched with three new arrivals bringing the total population of the critically endangered parrot to 123.
Staff and volunteers on Whenua Hou (Codfish Island), off Stewart Island in Southland, are delighted after the trio hatched safely and are being looked after by their mums – or foster mum – in nests.
Department of Conservation Kākāpō ranger Jo Ledington said all the chicks were doing well, and another was expected within the next two or three days.
“We’re all happy and excited, but we’re obviously monitoring them closely at the moment,” said Jo.
“It’s definitely a high-risk time for the chicks when they’ve just hatched, but they are all being looked after in the nest which is good news. Chicks raised in the nest usually do much better than hand raised birds – they gain weight faster and usually have less health issues. So we’re just helping out by popping heat pads over the chicks when mum goes out for a while.”
It is hoped that 11 eggs will hatch this season, a lower number than the bumper season two years ago, due to the low number of rimu fruit available for the birds to eat.
“Kākāpō breeding is dependent on the rimu, so it was disappointing this year when the fruit failed,” said Jo. “This happened because of the bad weather we had down here in spring, but you just have to get on with it and hope for the best. Nothing is easy when you’re dealing with such a small population, but it’ll be fantastic to have a few more chicks running around.”
The current aim of the Kakapo Recovery programme, supported by a partnership involving Rio Tinto Alcan New Zealand Limited, Forest & Bird and DOC, is to reach a sustainable population of 150 females.